The Laugharne Weekend is an annual literary and arts festival held in the town of Laugharne in West Wales each spring, with leftfield literary and musical talent from around the world. The 2024 festival takes place from 15 - 17 March.
The festival is deliberately small-scale. The size of the town - which itself is very small - ensures that the festival will not grow beyond certain bounds. Its location means that festival visitors and townspeople rub shoulders with the artists and performers.
We talked to its founder, Richard Thomas, about how he created a wilfully different arts event...
So what is it about Laugharne?
'I thought I’d seen eccentric places in Wales, but Laugharne’s a total one-off. It’s completely other-worldly. The original name for Under Milk Wood was "The Town That Was Mad" – and Laugharne still is, in the best possible way. The vibe is completely still here. The main street, the square, the castle – they haven’t changed at all. If Dylan Thomas came back today he’d instantly recognise it.'
Why is Dylan still remembered so vividly?
'It’s partly the mystique of someone who dies quite young, and also the hoary myth of him being one of the great drinkers. But it’s also about the work Dylan left behind, of course. If any poet has one great poem, people remember it. Dylan Thomas left five or six that most people will have heard, and Under Milk Wood is a classic.
'One of the tragedies about Dylan’s death is that there is so much he could have done. Everyone refers to him as a poet, but he was a lot more than that. He wrote film scripts, he was a playwright, a great prose writer, and he was instrumental in performing his works, both on the radio and on all the tours he did in the United States.'
What about the town’s other literary connections?
'The poet Edward Thomas lived here as did the author Richard Hughes, who’s most famous for his novel High Wind in Jamaica. Kingsley Amis wrote much of his 1986 Booker Prizewinning novel The Old Devils while staying in Laugharne, and Margaret Atwood set a short story in the town. The great feminist philosopher Mary Wollstonecraft lived here, and her daughter Mary Shelley, who wrote Frankenstein, often visited. The town has also been painted by Constable, Turner and Augustus John, and there are also the historical connections: Owain Glyndŵr’s rebellion more or less came to an end here in 1403, and the castle played an important role in the English Civil War.'
How did the Laugharne Weekend come about?
'Very, very strangely! My uncle ran a pub in Laugharne from 1941 to 1967. He was a big friend of Dylan’s, and was one of his funeral bearers. I was at home one day with the TV on in the background, and during the adverts up popped the actor Neil Morrissey, who at the time had a few business interests in Laugharne. And I instantly thought, "Laugharne – that’s the perfect place to do a festival".'
How do you get such big stars in such small venues?
'To begin with, the Dylan Thomas myth was very important to get artists to come here, but when they see the town, they just fall in love with it. The one word that keeps coming up all the time is "friendly"'.